Tokyo 2020 (in 2021) broke new ground as the most gender-equal edition to date, with women representing nearly 49 percent of all participants at these Olympic Games.
From earning sporting immortality to achieving record-breaking feats, women wowed us from the legends bringing the curtain down on illustrious careers to future stars announcing themselves to the world.
The kids are alright
Nothing inspires more than seeing someone you can relate with achieve superhuman feats. Whether it is someone who looks like you, does the same sport as you, or is part of the same generation.
The women’s skateboarding competition which made its debut in Tokyo 2020, flipped the script on age norms in sport.
Three teenage women did exactly that, sliding, grinding and flipping their way into the history books when they became the youngest podium ever in Olympic history.
NISHIYA Momiji (13), Brazil’s Rayssa Leal (13) and NAKAYAMA Funa (16) shared the podium in the women’s skateboarding street competition.
Leal became a viral sensation in 2015 when U.S. skateboarding legend Tony Hawk shared a video of the then eight-year-old Brazilian landing a trick in a fairy costume. The video earned her the nickname “The Skating Fairy”.
But in Tokyo, her style and grace on the board and the spirit of camaraderie in supporting her competitors earned her wider respect. Leal became the youngest winner of a medal of any colour since Berlin 1936, while NISHIYA is the youngest gold medallist since those same Games.
All that glitters is…Felix
Coming into Tokyo 2020, Allyson Felix had already reached iconic status for her incredible feats on the track across four Olympics and multiple world championships.
Speak to any athlete – man or woman – and they would tell you of their admiration for Felix and the inspirational role she had played in their lives.
Her longevity meant a new generation could feed off her legacy as she brought the curtain down on an illustrious career in record-breaking fashion at her fifth Olympics.
The 35-year-old Felix bowed out of the Games as the most decorated female track and field Olympian, raking a total of 11 medals – adding the 400m bronze and the 4x400m gold to her collection. She surpassed Carl Lewis as the U.S. athlete with the most medals at the Olympic Games.
Felix ended her Olympic dream with a bang winning her fourth straight 4x400m gold in a quartet of super U.S. athletes. The fantastic four included world 400m hurdles record holder Sydney McLaughlin and 800m specialist Athing Mu who also took the figurative baton from Felix.
Four legs but not a relay
Like Felix, Germany’s Isabell Werth further cemented her place in the annals of the Olympic Games, adding to her already impressive collection of medals in the dressage.
Werth came into Tokyo 2020 as the most decorated Olympic equestrian athlete of all time and her indomitable form extended her medal haul to 11, spanning five editions.
The 52-year-old became the first rider to win seven equestrian Olympic gold medals courtesy of Germany’s victory in the team dressage.
Werth started her Olympic career at Barcelona 1992 with Gigolo. The pair formed one of the sport’s most successful partnerships in history, winning three Olympic team titles (1992, 1996 and 2000), individual gold at Atlanta 1996 and individual silver at Barcelona 1992 and Sydney 2000.
She won team gold and individual silver at Beijing 2008 with Satchmo and did the same at Rio 2016 with Weihegold.
The 17-year-old mare, Bella Rose 2, continued a proud partnership with the irrepressible Werth, again clinching the individual silver and team gold medals.
The kayak queens
Five years ago, Hungary’s Danuta Kozak went on a medal rampage, winning three gold medals in Rio 2016, making her the queen of the kayak. At Tokyo 2020, it was Kiwi Lisa Carrington’s turn to join the exclusive club of paddlers to win three gold medals at a single Olympics. Only four canoe sprint athletes have achieved this feat, including Kozak and another New Zealander Ian Ferguson.
Carrington became New Zealand’s greatest Olympian with her gold-medal harvest, adding to the three she won at Rio 2016 and London 2012 to extend her haul to six.
The 32-year-old Carrington won her third consecutive K1 200m gold medal before adding the K1 500m and K2 500m titles to her list of accolades. She won a bronze in the K1 500m at the Rio Games in 2016.
While she was the undisputed paddle queen at these Olympics, Kozak demonstrated why she is considered a legend of the sport.
Kozak won her sixth gold medal as a member of Hungary’s K4 500m quartet, including Tamara Csipes, Anna Karasz and Dora Bodonyi. The victory was Hungary’s third consecutive gold in the event.
The 35-year-old extended her total medal tally to eight – over four Olympics – courtesy of the team gold and the bronze medal she won in K1 500m.
If you fall, get back up, and do a Hassan
Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands made an audacious attempt at an unprecedented distance treble in Tokyo 2020, targeting gold in the 1500m, 5000m and the 10000m.
The 28-year-old came painstakingly close to doing precisely that, winning gold in the 5000m and 10000m while settling for bronze in the 1500m.
Bagging just one of those medals in any of the three colours would qualify as a noteworthy feat but winning three at the same Olympics is unparalleled.
Hasan covered 24,500 metres of Olympic racing in eight days to earn the three medals, becoming only the second woman behind fellow Netherlands' Fanny Blanker-Koen to win three individual track medals at the same Olympics. She also became the first woman since Tirunesh Dibaba at Beijing 2008 to complete the long-distance track double.
Hassan has become a motivational meme courtesy of her fall and inspirational recovery to win her 1500m heat.